No Such Thing As Safe One-Time Cocaine Use?

Posted on November 21st, 2013
Posted in Drug Abuse

one-time cocaineExperimentation with drugs can seem exciting and safe, if done on a one-time basis. That may be the mindset of young people pressured by their friends to “just try it once.” What could possibly be the harm, the reasoning goes. After all, one time won’t make me an addict.

That may not be entirely true. A single dose of cocaine appears to rewire parts of the brain involved in memory-based decision-making. According to a study at UC San Francisco’s Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center, mice administered cocaine grew far more dendritic spines, which can form synapses and create new connections, than did mice only receiving saline.

Their behavior also changed, causing them to seek out the chamber where the cocaine was supplied. In scientific terms, this is known as a “conditioned place preference.”

What’s most shocking about the discovery is that these brain and behavior changes occurred within two hours of the initial cocaine dose.

Researchers said that these findings shed new light on the frontal brain’s role in drug-seeking behavior and may be the key to tackling addiction. The authors said that further study could lead to new therapies aimed at reconditioning or interrupting the addictive circuitry and altering behavior.

Mice, not humans

Granted, this study used mice, which lack the complex brain structure of humans, but researchers said that mice brains share enough of our neurobiological characteristics to be a useful and widespread model in future experiments.

Some of the imaging results from the mice appear to mirror those done on human addicts.

“We have limited real estate in the brain, and this shows how drugs dominate what users think about,” Linda Wilbrecht, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at UC Berkeley and lead study author told The Huffington Post. “Drug exposure fuels drug use, potentially at the expense of other priorities.”

Wilbrecht added that because our brains regularly grow and lose new spines, she is hopeful that recovery is possible. “The brain can rewire, and it is rewired by lots of experiences. So even though it was so much more rewired by the exposure to cocaine than it usually is, it can return to normal.”

Best advice: stay clear of drugs

Having the strength and courage to resist peer pressure to engage in drug-using in the first place is the best way to avoid potentially becoming addicted.

No one ever says that they choose to become an addict, but taking the chance with just one exposure to drugs may be making a subtle statement to the contrary.

How to say no is up to you, although you can discuss different strategies to use with parents or other trusted adults. In the end, you have to remember that this is your life. What choices you make now may have profound influence on your future.

If you have gotten involved in drugs and want to get off being dependent on them, seek help. Talk with your parents first.

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